‘Days Gone’ (2019) Review

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So there I was – riding along the open road, wind in my hair, looking for the next gas station to stop by and fill up in, when I come crashing into a gigantic hoard of freakers – Days Gone’s version of Infected / Zombie.

I wasn’t paying attention to the road. I’m swarmed. I’m knocked off my bike. I have to make a decision to fight or run. I go down swinging like an idiot, big grin on my face.

DAYS GONE, SIE Bend’s first PS4 game, has plenty of these moments scattered over the course of its 40-odd hour story. What I mean is – little horror movie moments you make for yourself when just exploring the lush Oregon countryside, be it rainforests or snow-capped mountainsides. 

The story of this epic is about a drifter with a conscience Deacon St. John (Sam Witwer). After the outbreak, which saw the loss of his wife, he’s a nomad, moving from one camp to camp with his mate Boozer (played by Jim Perri). 

Moving from one camp to the next, you’ll be seeing things from his perspective as he deals with a whole list of themes – which happens to be all shades of grey.

In this harsh world, Days Gone is more in line  with The Walking Dead, rather than, say, Dawn of the Dead. That is to say, it’s totally a soap opera – the span of the game feeling like two seasons worth of writing, it’s focus on the core cast, their moralities and the bleak world around them. 

For the most part, I really, really enjoyed the story. Things aren’t black and white, things are grey all over. Tough decisions are made – heartbreaking choices arise. I see characters that are, deep down, good but make really bad decisions. There’s a lot to these characters you meet and I like that, it makes things meaty. 

I will say that the antagonists are the only weakly developed characters out there, which are unfortunate. In this world, which can often be so strongly written, it’s a bit of a bummer to see that the same complexity isn’t added to a villain. 

But It helps that the voice work and mo-cap is outstanding. My hat is off to the animators and the core cast. They sell the moment, they sell the scene. The animation feels human, the voices hit the right beats. Everything runs smoothly. Mostly. 

I write ‘mostly’ because there’s a strange disjointedness to the cutscenes – and even the missions – of Days Gone that hurts the overall experience. I don’t know why, I’m not too tech savvy with the PS4, but cut-scenes fade in and out, breaking immersion and sometimes even shifting tonally from one beat to another.

One time I had character yelling at me angrily but seconds later thank me for my work on a side mission. There’s a lot of this sort of thing that happens that feels jarring. 

To add to this, there are quite a number of bugs. Hoards disappeared before my eyes, key mission items fall through the environment, I got stuck underneath a mountain. These are few and far between, thankfully, but they are certainly present. 

But enough of the criticisms, here’s the good thing – it’s a genuinely fun game to play. Your main source of exploration is your bike, which you have fo refuel or repair if you run out or damage it. I enjoyed that. I liked that I had to plan my adventures around fuel. It opens the doors to new experiences. It made me think. 

I like the little things, like customisation. You customise the look of your bike how you like it. You jump to the skill tree and customise things like stealth or combat or survival – however you play, it’s all here however you like it. I like all that type of stuff, it keeps me invested, looking to the next time I level up. It becomes a little personal goal.

You also have a bit of freedom when it comes to tackling combat. What do you want to use, to craft? You have that option. Tackling enemy camps gives you blueprints to craft certain things. In time this means a pipe bomb. Take that into battle. Or not. The choice is yours. I got very fond of, perhaps a little too fond of, my customised baseball bat with a circular saw around its top. That was my go-to for freaks.

Some storylines, as the game bills them as, do get repetitive. Bounty hunting, for example, can lose that excitement when it’s the same Hunt-and-retrieve or chase-down-X-biker-style. Mind you, I felt that grind in the last half of the game. But the repetition is still there. 

Mostly, DAYS GONE is like reading a really satisfying 600-page novel. It might be disjointed or uneven in places but there is a lot of really strong material here, in terms of writing and in terms of gaming and over all, I think it pays off smashingly. 

If you’re a fan of survival horror or epic post apocalyptic fiction, if you like some minor survival elements in gaming or if you’re a fan of them running zombies, barrelling over each other to get to some tasty flesh, give Days Gone a chance – and, I should say, a fair shake. I think it deserves it. 

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